SCOTLAND Under-21 head coach Billy Stark hopes the Paisley feelgood factor can inspire his players when they open their latest European qualifying campaign at St Mirren Park on Monday night.
Paisley witnessed some memorable celebrations after Saints beat Hearts to win the Scottish Communities League Cup on Sunday with an estimated 15,000 fans congregating in the town centre.
And former St Mirren midfielder Stark hopes many of them can turn out to cheer on his young players when they face Luxembourg in their first qualifying match for the 2015 finals.
Stark, who will assess Tony Watt before Monday’s game after the Celtic forward initially pulled out with a foot injury, said: “Paisley has been in party mode for a few days so hopefully that football bug carries on to the national team on Monday night.
“You did get a sense of a town rallying behind the team for a cup final. Everybody likes to be associated with success, that’s just a fact of life. Hopefully that feeling rolls on to Monday night.”
Some of Stark’s squad might not be so keen on the venue with four Hearts players in the squad, although forward David Smith is on loan at Raith Rovers.
The rest – left-back Kevin McHattie and midfielders Jason Holt and Jamie Walker – all featured at Hampden while St Mirren’s sole representative in the squad, Kenny McLean, was an unused substitute.Stark said: “Kenny was in good spirits but the Hearts boys, to different degrees, because they are all different individuals, were a bit down. Some hid it better than others, but that was something we had to factor in, but they were all lively when they went on the training pitch, so that was good.”
Walker received his call-up after Kilmarnock forward Rory McKenzie withdrew along with Watt. “I got the call-up on Monday so that was good to get a bit of confidence back and get a boost,” the 20-year-old said.
“If I get the call on Monday then I’ve got a good chance to put things right.”
Despite the Hampden defeat, Walker impressed on the left flank and feels proud of his club’s international recognition. “There are four of us in the squad and there are loads of other good young players at Hearts, so the future looks bright,” he said.
“I have got better and better as the season has gone on. The experienced players at Hearts always make you feel welcome but as the season has gone on I feel more part of the squad.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Football Association announced that under-17s coach Dean Gorre had left his role for personal reasons.